Grandelius Qualifies For Final Norway Spot

Grandelius Qualifies For Final Norway Spot

| 16 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Magnus Carlsen was once asked if he would have liked to have played chess during the Cold War. He said he couldn't relate, then added, "Well, we have Sweden."

Now, Sweden gets a piece of him, and the rest of Norway. Top Swedish player and current national champion GM Nils Grandelius has bested two other Norwegians and qualified for the 10th and final spot for 2016 Altibox Norway Chess by dominating the quaint double round-robin qualifier in Fagernes, Norway. The elite 10-player round robin will take place April 18-30, 2016.

He finished with four wins and two draws in the half classical/half rapid event, including going 2-0 against Norwegian number two GM Jon Ludvig Hammer. Grandelius also went 1.5/2 against both Women's World Champion GM Hou Yifan and Norwegian number four GM-elect Aryan Tari.

(Left to right) GMs Hou Yifan, Jon Ludvig Hammer, Aryan Tari, Nils Grandelius (Picture courtesy official site)

The win makes Grandelius the first Swede to play in the young event, and also denies Hammer the chance to repeat his sensational win over Carlsen in the 2015 event. Hou would have been the first women to play since the event's inception in 2013.

Tari would have been the fourth Norwegian to play, but he doesn't leave empty-handed. The same day the tournament ended, his GM title was getting approved at the FIDE Presidential Board Meeting in Moscow, which commenced on the same day!

Swedish number one GM Nils Grandelius.

Back to Grandelius (2646), who has shed only his dreadlocks in recent years. He'd been in the upper 2500s for years, but in the last 14 months has always been on the north side of 2600 and after this event will be on his peak rating.

Technically the classical games were 3-1-0 scoring and the rapid 2-1-0 but it didn't matter at all, he simply dominated. Grandelius came almost straight from the 2016 Reykjavik Open (as did Tari) but didn't show any signs of fatigue.

Round one set the tone. Hammer, in trying to make it to his third Norway Chess in four years, overpressed with two minors versus the rook. Then he needed to hold a four-pawns-for-knight ending, but mistakenly traded into a lost opposite-colored bishop finish.

It wasn't a runaway, as Hammer got the three points back in round two against Tari, then made another three-pointer against Hou a day later (Hammer would finish with zero draws in his six games).

The world's top female player got a little more inventive in her first event back after taking the title back, but her Benoni was punished by a simple but effective clincher:

Hammer's biggest problem came from the man from the other side of the Riksrösen. Grandelius just wouldn't let his foot off the gas as he also won in round three, against Tari.

Still, Carlsen's second held his fate in his own hands going into the rapid, as he had one more battle with the leader awaiting him. They switched colors, but the result was the same.

The Swede then iced the tournament in the second-to-last round. His tenaciousness against Hou paid off, as she forgot to get enough pawns off the board before ditching her rook for White's final pawn.

Grandelius drew Tari in the final rapid game to make his score 12 points (two wins and a draw in the classical, and the same in the rapid).

2016 Altibox Norway Qualifier | Final Standings

# Name Fed Rtg Classical Rapid Total Points
1 GM Nils Grandelius SWE 2646 7 5 12
2 GM Jon Ludvig Hammer NOW 2701 6 2 8
3 GM Hou Yifan CHN 2667 2 4 6
4 GM-elect Aryan Tari NOR 2553 1 1 2

In the accompanying Fagernes International, held concurrently, GM Sam Shankland took clear first in a field of 34 with an undefeated 7.0/9.

So Carlsen will get to live out his personal Cold War later in April when he faces Grandelius. The world champion was of coure joking, but just as an excercise how has he faced against top-flight Swedish competition in his career? In a word that Swedes, Norwegians, and English speakers will understand: fantastisk.

Carlsen's never played Swedish #1 Grandelius, but against #2 Evgenij Agrest he's 1-0. Versus #3 Emanuel Berg he's 4-0, including blitz events. Against #6 GM Erik Blomqvist he's 1-0, and facing #10 GM Jonny Hector he has one draw.

GM Magnus Carlsen doesn't often let Swedes get the best of him.

Has any Swede toppled Carlsen in the last decade in tournament play? Indeed yes, there's been at least one. After falling to Carlsen at the 2004 Sigeman Cup, Swedish #4 GM Tiger Hillarp Persson needed 96 moves, but eventually overcame the Norwegian fortress in a future game, played a decade ago.

Besides this rare chance for Carlsen to play a Swede, the other eight players will be GMs Vladimir Kramnik, Anish Giri, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian, defending champion Veselin Topalov, Pavel Eljanov, world championship challenger Sergey Karjakin, and Pentala Harikrishna.

Carlsen has never won the event in his three tries. 

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